How To Choose, Store And Cook Wagyu [16 Questions Answered]
Wagyu beef is synonymous with luxury and exclusivity. It is one of the most exclusive, delectable, and tender meats in the world. It is famous for being an experience as opposed to a meal.
The story of Wagyu, and how it has gained this legendary reputation, is astonishing. Not only that, but Wagyu also has the honor of being one of the healthiest meats known to us!
Here at A-Five Meats, we have selected the most common questions we receive about this unique meat, and how to get the most from your Wagyu experience. Allow us to answer these questions for you, and show you around our world of Wagyu beef, to share how beautifully exquisite it is.
1. What Is Wagyu Beef, And How Does It Get Its Name?
The name is certainly unique, but there’s a good reason for that.
“Wa” means ‘Japanese,’ and “Gyu” means ‘cow’ - pronounced “wagyoo.” One of the fascinating qualities of Wagyu cattle is that they naturally lay down fatty deposits in a unique marbling pattern within the muscle structure. Most cows lay down their fat stores mainly outside of their muscles, so for Wagyu to achieve this degree of marbling is unique.
This distinctive marbling in Wagyu is known as IMF (which stands for intramuscular fat) – and this is the magic secret of Wagyu’s exquisite buttery, rich flavor. The fat deposits are also the reason for the tenderest of textures and pale pearlescent coloring with delicate white marbling.
2. Why Is Wagyu Beef So Expensive?
Wagyu beef is costly – but the reasons for this are more than justified. Every cow leads the perfect life, cared for by dedicated and experienced handlers with the wisdom of generations of Wagyu farmers behind them.
The fatty deposits that marble Wagyu beef must accumulate at the right rate, in precisely the right place (within their muscle fibers), to create that delectable IMF (intramuscular fat). To achieve the famous marbling, the animals graze for longer after weaning then is usually the case for cattle – 30 months or more. ‘Standard’ cows only graze for around a year and a half. The investment in grazing alone is double that of a typical beef animal.
Wagyu cattle are kept serenely comfortable throughout their lives, as stressors of any kind could cause the cows to burn fat as part of the fight or flight response. Besides, animals which are stressed or unhappy tend to be unhealthy, which produces poor quality meat.
Every authentic Wagyu can be traced back through its life, right the way to the farm. Only a select few Wagyu make the grade to perfection – A5 – following a rigorous inspection process by three different inspectors. Wagyu quality and grading inspectors follow years of training. Their profession is highly respected – the grading and selection process has the highest standards, to ensure Wagyu beef consistently delivers top quality, time after time.
At an auction, a Wagyu calf can trade for 40 times the cost of a normal cow- a Wagyu heifer sold in 2002 for 50 Million Yen! It’s clear from these numbers that the investment needed to raise Wagyu is almost beyond comprehension, but for all the right reasons.
3. What Are The Most Popular Cuts Of Wagyu Beef?
Characteristics of different cuts of beef, especially Wagyu, depend heavily upon where on the cow the meat has been taken. Harder working, weight bearing muscles tend to have a lower level of fat (bearing in mind that Wagyu will always have more fat than standard beef).
The flavor packed within these harder working muscles can also be very intense. It can be simply unlocked using the correct cooking methods. An example of these ‘hard working cuts’ includes brisket, which in Wagyu can be barbecued or sliced very thinly and flash fried.
The more sedentary muscles on the cow tend to contain higher fat content, and therefore more of the distinctive marbling in Wagyu. The more sedentary cuts are juicy because they are not worked so hard. As a result, the fatty deposits held in the intramuscular fibers don’t get used up as they do in harder working areas. Wagyu beef perfectly demonstrates this succulence as the cattle lead a very sedentary and relaxed existence, coupled with the perfect diet tailored specifically for their breed. Examples of these more tender cuts include ribeye and short rib.
There is a wide variety of cuts available, but some suit Wagyu particularly well. Here’s a little more information about the most popular cuts to help you get familiar with what these cuts are, and what the benefit is for each.
Tenderloin is typically a marbled cut of meat with an elegant texture – very tender and lean. Other cuts taken from the same area include the T-bone (also called Porterhouse) and Chateaubriand.
- Tri Tip
The tri tip comes from between the outer leg and the abdomen. The marbling on this cut is beautiful, the meat is delicious and has fantastic flavor. The name given to this cut comes from its distinctive triangular appearance, making it easy to spot on the butcher’s marble.
Ribeye comes from an area of the cow that does not bear weight (the rib). The result is that the muscle stays supple, rather than becoming more robust through constant use. It marbles beautifully and perfectly showcases the best Wagyu has to offer. The tenderness, flavor, and texture of this cut are unsurpassed.
- Short Rib
The short rib is a luxurious cut that melts in the mouth with a buttery burst of flavor. Perfection, with the highest quality flavor, sought after worldwide. The short rib is from the ribcage between the forelegs of the cow.
- Skirt Steak
Skirt steak is taken from under the ribs and towards the belly of the cow. It has excellent flavor and excellent marbling in Wagyu, with a tender texture when prepared correctly. The edges of this steak crisp nicely, which cooks well sliced thinly and seared hot.
Brisket is taken from the outside of the ribs, and is perfect for barbeques – low and slow is the key, to allow that rich flavor to develop slowly. Less marbling than other cuts, but more affordable while offering a uniquely unforgettable experience. A more robust texture, with plenty of character.
The striploin is also known as sirloin and has a delectable, sweet flavor. A popular choice, sirloin cuts are incredibly versatile and are taken from the loin of the cow.
- Strip Steak
Also known as New York Strip, this cut has dense marbling and full flavor. Strip steak comes from the loin primal below the backbone. This cut is particularly well suited to grilling, taking care not to cook at too high a heat.
4. How Long Can You Keep Wagyu In The Fridge?
Here at A-Five Meats, we send Wagyu chilled, rather than frozen. That means you can be sure of the quality, freshness, and perfection of the meat as soon as it arrives at your door.
Wagyu beef must be placed into the refrigerator straight after unpacking. Wrap the Wagyu meat tightly in the original packaging, then in clingfilm, to keep it fresh and delicious. Wrapping serves to ensure the meat does not come into direct contact with air, and therefore will not oxidize at its surface or dry out.
Wagyu stored in a refrigerator should only be kept there for up to 48 hours on a chilled plate. If the intention is to use it after 48 hours, it should go into the freezer without delay.
5. How Long Can Wagyu Be Stored In The Freezer?
Wagyu must be correctly stored when placing it in a freezer. For optimum results, keep the meat in its original packaging, and wrap tightly in clingfilm (as with the refrigeration storage technique). The clingfilm helps to block any contaminants or odors from other items stored, reaching the meat. Wagyu stored this way is fine for up to twelve months.
As with all freezer stored foods, it is best to use anything stored as soon as possible. Short periods of freezer storage prevents the likelihood of freezer burn and also acts to preserve freshness, texture, and flavor in the meat.
6. What Does It Mean If Wagyu Steak Turns Brown?
Frozen meats sometimes turn a slightly darker or slightly brown color. A lack of oxygen causes discoloration on the meat’s surface. If this happens, don’t be too concerned - it should disappear when thawed correctly, with the pale pink coloring returning as the flesh gets exposed to the air before cooking.
Wagyu steak can also sometimes turn brown when stored in the fridge if the surface of the flesh if left uncovered, or not tightly sealed. As with freezer color changes, remove the meat from the refrigerator and allow it to acclimatize slightly. The pale color and distinct marbling should then return in the same way.
7. What’s The Best Way To Thaw Wagyu?
Correct and careful defrosting is vital when preparing Wagyu taken from the freezer, with plenty of time allowed. The clingfilm and original packaging should remain on the meat throughout the defrosting process to protect from contamination, and to control temperature changes.
An approximate estimate for the time allowed to defrost is around six hours per pound of meat. Always check the beef is fully and adequately thawed before cooking. The defrosting stage of the preparation should take place slowly in the fridge, except for the final acclimatization.
Some people defrost meat by submerging it in cold water. If taking this approach, the water must be frigid and not touch the surface of the flesh at all. The introduction of contaminants by water coming into contact with the meat can be hazardous, and impact the quality of the beef by affecting the texture.
When fully thawed, the Wagyu should be removed from the fridge for around an hour before cooking to allow it to acclimatize. The temperature of the meat will increase slightly, closer to room temperature, and allow for more thorough and even cooking. Typically, Wagyu steaks cook for far less time than standard beef, so the meat must be thawed well and cooked evenly.
8. What Is The Best Way To Season Wagyu Meat?
Wagyu meat is famed for its full, rich flavor and succulent flesh. To mask that fantastic flavor profile would be like painting over a Picasso. Subtle and complementary is the best approach to take to retain the unique aromas and mouthfeel of this exclusive culinary experience.
A simple seasoning of salt and pepper on both sides of the meat is perfect when cooking Wagyu steak. If barbecuing, stewing or roasting a firmer cut (brisket, for example), remember those cuts are already bursting with flavor. A complementary marinade can be used for a barbecue cut, or accompaniment of simple herbs and seasoning for stewing or roasting, but remember not to use anything that will overpower the meat. Be sure to keep any accompaniments simple.
9. What Is The Ideal Size Wagyu Steak For A Skillet?
Wagyu is, of course, famous for that fantastic taste and richness. All this incredible flavor and the beautiful fat marbling means portion sizes do not need to be as large as for regular beef. Wagyu cuts are therefore smaller for Wagyu than for standard cattle steaks. Many recommend two to four ounces per person – as the meat is rich and full in flavor - but this is entirely down to individual taste.
Standard Wagyu cuts are generally around 6oz for a short rib and 8oz for other steaks. Various size cuts are, of course, available. It is more than acceptable to share or cut down the meat a little to reduce portion sizes according to preference, serving style, and requirements.
If selecting a traditional style Wagyu steak, the perfect thickness is just under an inch to just over that – a little goes a very long way. Wagyu is also good when prepared in very thin strips, rather than a whole steak – say, four inches by just under an inch per piece. Light strips are a perfect approach for the fuller flavored selections or those with dense marbling and will encourage a flavorful crispy edge.
Some Japanese steak houses serve their steaks sliced incredibly thinly and just flash fried, for example, in the teppanyaki style. If cooking tenderloin, a slightly thicker cut is better suited - around 1.5 inches is excellent.
10. What’s The Best Way To Cook Wagyu?
Grilling or frying will give the best results. With Wagyu beef, it’s important to remember the cuts will not be as thick as with regular steaks due to their richness, so they need far less cooking time. Never, ever leave them in the pan and walk away – the meat should not be over browned or burned during careful preparation. Cooking is part of the experience!
Wagyu beef looks beautiful when seared with distinctive grill marks, so get the pan or grill up to medium to high heat. Make sure that the meat sizzles when it touches the hot surface. Sear all sides of the flesh, frequently turning throughout the cooking process. A minute and a half to two minutes on each side should be more than enough, less if using thinly sliced meat.
Take in the rich aromas, leaving the meat to rest for at least five minutes before serving.
11. What Is The Best Type Of Skillet When Cooking Wagyu Beef?
A well seasoned, heavyweight cast iron skillet is an excellent option for cooking Wagyu meat. Cast iron distributes the heat in the bottom of the pan evenly. It also promotes a consistent temperature level without the ‘cold spots’ associated with other pan types.
A ridged cast iron skillet can also sear in beautiful grill lines to complement the appearance of the marbling and coloring that makes Wagyu famous.
12. How Should I Season Wagyu Beef Before Cooking?
Wagyu should be seasoned very simply and sparingly. Make sure to use good quality salt and pepper, ideally freshly ground or milled. Keep it light and straightforward.
The best way to season Wagyu meat is to put a fine sprinkling of salt and pepper on both sides of the flesh. Allow it to rest a short while, so the moisture and flavors get drawn into the salt granules meat’s surface. These juices will then slowly melt and sink back into the fibers before cooking.
Some people prefer to season Wagyu meat after cooking. If seasoning before cooking, remember the golden feature of all high quality Wagyu: that wonderful intense flavor, and that the seasoning may not draw into the flesh in the same way. It’s far too easy to mask the distinctive aromas with too much seasoning. A subtle seasoning approach allows for a delicate complementing of Wagyu’s characteristic buttery flavor, rather than unnecessarily overpowering the palate.
13. Should I Use Oil Or Butter When Cooking Wagyu Beef?
One of the beautiful things about Wagyu is it brings oil to the party all by itself – not only that, it’s the finest, most delectable and perfect oil possible for the job. You guessed it – that beautiful marbling of fat.
Wagyu releases a far higher volume of fat during cooking than regular beef. It only needs a small snip of the outer edge fat to melt and swirl to coat the pan before introducing the meat. Wagyu doesn’t need any help in the taste department, so neither butter nor additional oils are necessary.
Wagyu beef fat has an incredibly low melting point, so it doesn’t take long at all to render down. A small piece of the tasty fat will melt down enough to coat the bottom of the pan and prevent sticking. Allow it to melt, then add the meat once it is up to temperature, and the fat has fully dissolved.
14. How Well Should Wagyu Steak Be Cooked?
In a skillet, Wagyu is at its finest when cooked to no more than medium rare at most. Cooking temperature should be at medium to high heat, making sure to sear each side in turn. As the steaks tend to be cut more thinly than regular steak due to their rich flavor, they do not need so long to cook.
While the meat is cooking, the marbled internal fats (those famous intramuscular fats, also known as IMF) in Wagyu melt down into the fibers. When these fats are naturally incorporated back into the meat upon resting, it brings that delicious, juicy texture and rich aroma. Any seasoning added before cooking also gets reabsorbed, to present the buttery succulence which makes Wagyu so famous.
A hot grill is also a great option when it comes to cooking Wagyu. However, it can be a challenge initially for beginners to master. The heated metal rods of the grill brings out the distinctive sear lines and also leave a tasty, crispy edge to the meat’s surface and edge. The meat should cook more quickly under a hot grill than the skillet.
As with the skillet method, it’s vital not to overcook the meat. Overcooking is more of a risk with the grill, as the temperature is far higher. Turn the Wagyu on the grill pan frequently, and with all the techniques, make sure to allow the meat to rest well before serving.
15. What Is The Best Way To Serve Wagyu Beef?
Wagyu is served only after resting – this allows time for the fats released during cooking to reabsorb into the fibers and redistribute evenly through the meat. The wait time to let Wagyu sit before serving should be at least five minutes (off the heat and out of the pan, of course). Hot lights are also a concern, as they can cause overcooking if left too long in a warming area.
If incorrectly rested, the juices won’t stay in the fibers of the flesh, and they will just run straight out. They will not have had sufficient time for the meat to relax and reincorporate the delectable juices and buttery fats. The flavors would not be distributed evenly through the cut, and the authentic experience of Wagyu could get missed completely! The wait is always worth it, and should never be skipped or skimmed!
Serving plates should be pre-warmed (but not so hot as to cook the meat further) to prevent ‘shocking.’. Shocking is what happens when the meat fibers close back up due to coming into contact with extreme surface temperature. Avoid hot plates, as it would have the same effect as not allowing sufficient resting time – i.e., a drawing together of the fibers, locking out the juices.
A slate or board can also be suitable to serve Wagyu, and provide an elegant solution to create an attractive setting, offering pride of place at the table. The Wagyu serving is the star of the show and needs presentation as such. Part of the experience is for diners to feast with their eyes before their forks or chopsticks!
16. What Is The Best Accompaniment To Wagyu Meat?
Wagyu has an intense flavor, so it does not need strong supporting influences on the same plate. Most chefs are happy to simply serve Wagyu alone, with just the light salt and pepper seasoning added during the cooking phase.
A very light salad or sautéed vegetables can serve as a side dish if required. Another accompaniment to compliment Wagyu is the delicate, earthy addition of freshly picked mushrooms. Some even like to add fries. However, the Wagyu should be more than satisfying enough on its own.
In terms of beverages to accompany Wagyu, it is a personal choice. There is no right or wrong, although sake is the traditional accompaniment to Japanese Wagyu – it cuts nicely across the buttery sweetness of the meat. Sake also brings out the nuances of the flavor profile and cleanses the palate between mouthfuls.
Any good quality light wine or crisp spring water will also serve well alongside Wagyu, as long as they don’t mask the taste profile of the meat. Remember, the more delicate and expensive cuts should be allowed to bring their full power to the palate without interruption.
These questions are just the beginning of your journey into the world of Wagyu. The best way to experience it and to truly appreciate this magnificent culinary adventure is to take your own path to enjoy the ultimate reward of the finest beef in the world for yourself. Only Wagyu can bring these delights – and we at A Five Meats are ready and waiting to help you along the way.